- Key concepts
- collapse of civilization, mournful survivalist noodling, peak oil paranoia, skinning deer by hand, James Howard Kunstler, Mark Morford
- Attention Conservation Notice:
- Could consume most of an afternoon in febrile handwringing and left-wing schadenfreude.
Jeez, it's amazing what the Internet can do with a harmless little post-apocalypse sci-fi movie.
It's sure been a big month for Dr. Jared "Collapse" Diamond. Not only does he have an LA museum show, but has a big TV special coming out and he just lectured for Long Now Foundation. The collapse of civilization is the New Black!
Hurricane Schiavo devastates Florida.
Suicide bomber ignites fossil-fuel truck in front of Iraqi Shi'ite mosque... Imagine if TS Eliot were an Arab poet with an objective correlative for the Waste Land end times. "Not with a whimper but a bang."
James Howard Kunstler: like Cassandra, only louder, smarter, busier, and in ROLLING STONE.
"The Long Emergency
"What's going to happen as we start running out of
cheap gas to guzzle?
"By JAMES HOWARD KUNSTLER
"A few weeks ago, the price of oil ratcheted above fifty-five dollars a barrel, which is about twenty dollars a barrel more than a year ago. The next day, the oil story was buried on page six of the New York Times business section. Apparently, the price of oil is not considered significant news, even when it goes up five bucks a barrel in the span of ten days. That same day, the stock market shot up more than a hundred points because, CNN said, government data showed no signs of inflation. Note to clueless nation: Call planet Earth. (((What's the problem here: running out of oil, or NYT page rankings?)))
"Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychology, famously remarked that 'people cannot stand too much reality.' What you're about to read may challenge your assumptions about the kind of world we live in, and especially the kind of world into which events are propelling us. We are in for a rough ride through uncharted territory. (((Especially if Jung is our guide, because Jung was bonkers.)))
"It has been very hard for Americans – lost in dark raptures of nonstop infotainment, recreational shopping and compulsive motoring – to make sense of the gathering forces that will fundamentally alter the terms of everyday life in our technological society. Even after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, America is still sleepwalking into the future. I call this coming time the Long Emergency. (((I'd like to see the aspects of reality that Kunstler thinks Americans can make sense of. Are there any American connections to reality whatsoever? They used to be pretty good at... I dunno... making cotton gins and combine harvesters.)))
"Most immediately we face the end of the cheap fossil-fuel era. It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as the necessities of modern life – not to mention all of its comforts and luxuries: central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lights, inexpensive clothing, recorded music, movies, hip-replacement surgery, national defense – you name it. (((Okay, how about "clean air," "biodiversity," "a stable climate" and "potable water"? I just named four stark necessities of modern life that have nothing to do with cheap fossil fuel.)))
"The few Americans who are even aware that there is a gathering global-energy predicament usually misunderstand the core of the argument. That argument states that we don't have to run out of oil to start having severe problems with industrial civilization and its dependent systems. We only have to slip over the all-time production peak and begin a slide down the arc of steady depletion. (((Why is that the "core of the argument"? It's like saying that the core of lung cancer is when the price of cigarettes goes up.)))
"The term 'global oil-production peak' means that a turning point will come when the world produces the most oil it will ever produce in a given year and, after that, yearly production will inexorably decline. It is usually represented graphically in a bell curve. The peak is the top of the curve, the halfway point of the world's all-time total endowment, meaning half the world's oil will be left. That seems like a lot of oil, and it is, but there's a big catch: It's the half that is much more difficult to extract, far more costly to get, of much poorer quality and located mostly in places where the people hate us. A substantial amount of it will never be extracted.
"The United States passed its own oil peak – about 11 million barrels a day – in 1970, and since then production has dropped steadily. In 2004 it ran just above 5 million barrels a day (we get a tad more from natural-gas condensates). Yet we consume roughly 20 million barrels a day now. That means we have to import about two-thirds of our oil, and the ratio will continue to worsen.
"The U.S. peak in 1970 brought on a portentous change in geoeconomic power. Within a few years, foreign producers, chiefly OPEC, were setting the price of oil, and this in turn led to the oil crises of the 1970s. In response, frantic development of non-OPEC oil, especially the North Sea fields of England and Norway, essentially saved the West's ass for about two decades. Since 1999, these fields have entered depletion. Meanwhile, worldwide discovery of new oil has steadily declined to insignificant levels in 2003 and 2004." (((I'm not gonna quarrel with these figures, but the "change in geo-economic power"... Even if OPEC is regaining pricing power, can you imagine anything WORSE than being a citizen in an OPEC country? Take your choice of the new power-elite: Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, Indonesia...)))
"Some 'cornucopians' claim that the Earth has something like a creamy nougat center of 'abiotic' oil that will naturally replenish the great oil fields of the world. The facts speak differently. There has been no replacement whatsoever of oil already extracted from the fields of America or any other place. (((Thomas Gold argues otherwise, but that's okay... In my opinion, an infinite supply of abiotic oil would be ten times scarier than peak oil.)))
"Now we are faced with the global oil-production peak. The best estimates of when this will actually happen have been somewhere between now and 2010. In 2004, however, after demand from burgeoning China and India shot up, and revelations that Shell Oil wildly misstated its reserves, and Saudi Arabia proved incapable of goosing up its production despite promises to do so, the most knowledgeable experts revised their predictions and now concur that 2005 is apt to be the year of all-time global peak production." (((Suppose that peak oil really took place back in 1999. Would we all collapse now if experts reassessed the oil-reserve figures and figured that out?)))
"It will change everything about how we live. (((I hate to say "I'm all for it," but really, we Americans do need to change most everything about how we live. Why not just own up to it and get right on with the job? Come on, if the Indians and Chinese can do that, anybody can.)))
"To aggravate matters, American natural-gas production is also declining, at five percent a year, despite frenetic new drilling, and with the potential of much steeper declines ahead. Because of the oil crises of the 1970s, the nuclear-plant disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and the acid-rain problem, the U.S. chose to make gas its first choice for electric-power generation. The result was that just about every power plant built after 1980 has to run on gas. Half the homes in America are heated with gas. To further complicate matters, gas isn't easy to import. Here in North America, it is distributed through a vast pipeline network. Gas imported from overseas would have to be compressed at minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit in pressurized tanker ships and unloaded (re-gasified) at special terminals, of which few exist in America. Moreover, the first attempts to site new terminals have met furious opposition because they are such ripe targets for terrorism.
"Some other things about the global energy predicament are poorly understood by the public and even our leaders. (((I wonder why he lists the ignoramuses in this order. As Jared Diamond points out, civilizations collapse when the leaders are more ignorant than the public.))) This is going to be a permanent energy crisis, and these energy problems will synergize with the disruptions of climate change, epidemic disease and population overshoot to produce higher orders of trouble. (((Yeah but – what if there are PEAKS in the "epidemic disease" and "population overshoot"?)))
"We will have to accommodate ourselves to fundamentally changed conditions. (((Why not fundamentally change our own conditions? It's happening anyhow.)))
"No combination of alternative fuels will allow us
to run American life the way we have been used to
running it, or even a substantial fraction of it.
The wonders of steady technological progress achieved
through the reign of cheap oil have lulled us into
a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome, leading many
Americans to believe that anything we wish for
hard enough will come true. These days, even people
who ought to know better are wishing ardently for
a seamless transition from fossil fuels to their
(((I got similar problems with Jiminy Cricket, but not because he's a Pollyanna. That insect is one of those nagging, mindful, spiritual, conscience-driven coffee-cup enviro types. "Pinocchio, are you carved from sustainable tropical woods? Does your varnish offgas carcinogens?" Jeez, there's no end to it.)))
"The widely touted 'hydrogen economy' is a particularly cruel hoax. We are not going to replace the U.S. automobile and truck fleet with vehicles run on fuel cells. For one thing, the current generation of fuel cells is largely designed to run on hydrogen obtained from natural gas. The other way to get hydrogen in the quantities wished for would be electrolysis of water using power from hundreds of nuclear plants. Apart from the dim prospect of our building that many nuclear plants soon enough, there are also numerous severe problems with hydrogen's nature as an element that present forbidding obstacles to its use as a replacement for oil and gas, especially in storage and transport. (((Even if hydrogen storage and transport turn out to have insuperable problems, that doesn't make hydrogen a "hoax." A hoax is a deliberate fraud.)))
"Wishful notions about rescuing our way of life with
'renewables' are also unrealistic. Solar-electric
systems and wind turbines face not only the enormous
problem of scale but the fact that the components
require substantial amounts of energy to manufacture
and the probability that they can't be manufactured
at all without the underlying support platform of a
fossil-fuel economy. We will surely use solar and
wind technology to generate some electricity for a
period ahead but probably at a very local and small
scale. (((Solar and wind have major problems, but
"smallness" isn't one of them. The sun is very large.
The allegation that you can't build windmills
without oil is frankly weird. Here, look:)))
"Virtually all 'biomass' schemes for using plants to create liquid fuels cannot be scaled up to even a fraction of the level at which things are currently run. What's more, these schemes are predicated on using oil and gas 'inputs' (fertilizers, weed-killers) to grow the biomass crops that would be converted into ethanol or bio-diesel fuels. This is a net energy loser – you might as well just burn the inputs and not bother with the biomass products. Proposals to distill trash and waste into oil by means of thermal depolymerization depend on the huge waste stream produced by a cheap oil and gas economy in the first place. (((Wow, a Peak Oil trash crisis! We might run out of trash! Why isn't the Main Stream Media covering this menace?)))
"Coal is far less versatile than oil and gas, extant in less abundant supplies than many people assume and fraught with huge ecological drawbacks – as a contributor to greenhouse 'global warming' gases and many health and toxicity issues ranging from widespread mercury poisoning to acid rain. You can make synthetic oil from coal, but the only time this was tried on a large scale was by the Nazis under wartime conditions, using impressive amounts of slave labor. (((So, then, the Nazis had a Peak Oil problem, right? Did this make the Nazis collapse without a shot being fired?)))
"If we wish to keep the lights on in America after 2020, we may indeed have to resort to nuclear power, with all its practical problems and eco-conundrums. Under optimal conditions, it could take ten years to get a new generation of nuclear power plants into operation, and the price may be beyond our means. Uranium is also a resource in finite supply. We are no closer to the more difficult project of atomic fusion, by the way, than we were in the 1970s. (((I hate to hearken back to those Nazis again, but the Manhattan Project didn't take ten years, and nuclear power wasn't beyond the very modest means of the 1940s.)))
"The upshot of all this is that we are entering a historical period of potentially great instability, turbulence and hardship. (((I think that started when Bush was elected.))) Obviously, geopolitical maneuvering around the world's richest energy regions has already led to war and promises more international military conflict. Since the Middle East contains two-thirds of the world's remaining oil supplies, the U.S. has attempted desperately to stabilize the region by, in effect, opening a big police station in Iraq. The intent was not just to secure Iraq's oil but to modify and influence the behavior of neighboring states around the Persian Gulf, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia. The results have been far from entirely positive, and our future prospects in that part of the world are not something we can feel altogether confident about. (((Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we were entering a historical period of great stability, inanity and self-indulgent consumer prosperity. Would this be a real letdown?)))
"And then there is the issue of China, which, in 2004,
became the world's second-greatest consumer of oil,
surpassing Japan. China's surging industrial growth
has made it increasingly dependent on the imports we
are counting on. If China wanted to, it could easily
walk into some of these places – the Middle East,
former Soviet republics in central Asia – and extend
its hegemony by force. (((As Tibet, Taiwan and
Xinjiang prove, it's really easy to be the Chinese
World Policeman.))) Is America prepared to contest
for this oil in an Asian land war with the Chinese
army? I doubt it.
(((I really hope the generals in the Chinese Army don't imagine that they can "walk" armed troops across national borders in a planet bristling with pinpoint-accurate cruise missiles. The US military is terrible at occupation, but when it comes to ripping conventional armies apart, it's got no peer competitors.)))
"Nor can the U.S. military occupy regions of the Eastern Hemisphere indefinitely, or hope to secure either the terrain or the oil infrastructure of one distant, unfriendly country after another. A likely scenario is that the U.S. could exhaust and bankrupt itself trying to do this, and be forced to withdraw back into our own hemisphere, having lost access to most of the world's remaining oil in the process." (((Wouldn't that leave a surfeit of oil for everybody else, peak or no peak? I don't see why Peak Oil guys are so eager to demonize the Chinese. Wouldn't the 'Yellow Peril' be about ten times scarier if they were self-sufficient in energy?)))
"We know that our national leaders are hardly uninformed about this predicament. President George W. Bush has been briefed on the dangers of the oil-peak situation as long ago as before the 2000 election and repeatedly since then. In March, the Department of Energy released a report that officially acknowledges for the first time that peak oil is for real and states plainly that 'the world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary.' (((Wow! The foresightful Cheney and the Bush Department of Energy! Right on top of the job, eh? Mmmm-hmmm!)))
"Most of all, the Long Emergency will require us to make other arrangements for the way we live in the United States. America is in a special predicament due to a set of unfortunate choices we made as a society in the twentieth century. Perhaps the worst was to let our towns and cities rot away and to replace them with suburbia, which had the additional side effect of trashing a lot of the best farmland in America. Suburbia will come to be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It has a tragic destiny. The psychology of previous investment suggests that we will defend our drive-in utopia long after it has become a terrible liability. (((In other words, we're even dumber, more stubborn, and poorer investors than Communists.)))
"Before long, the suburbs will fail us in practical terms. We made the ongoing development of housing subdivisions, highway strips, fried-food shacks and shopping malls the basis of our economy, (((luckily, there's no such thing as an inner-city fried-food shack))) and when we have to stop making more of those things, the bottom will fall out.
"The circumstances of the Long Emergency will require us to downscale and re-scale virtually everything we do and how we do it, from the kind of communities we physically inhabit to the way we grow our food to the way we work and trade the products of our work. Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. (((There were no mass migrations during the oil-deprived Dark Ages, unless you count Huns, Mongols, Vandals, Celts, Langobards, Avars, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, anyone who believed in Mohammed, and practically everybody else.)))
"Anything organized on the large scale, whether it is government or a corporate business enterprise such as Wal-Mart, will wither as the cheap energy props that support bigness fall away. (((Does that include the Catholic Church?))) The turbulence of the Long Emergency will produce a lot of economic losers, and many of these will be members of an angry and aggrieved former middle class. (((It seems to me that, given this line of argument, the biggest losers in all this ought to be the globalizing, jet-setting upper class. How will they get to Davos?)))
"Food production is going to be an enormous problem in the Long Emergency. As industrial agriculture fails due to a scarcity of oil- and gas-based inputs, we will certainly have to grow more of our food closer to where we live, and do it on a smaller scale. The American economy of the mid-twenty-first century may actually center on agriculture, not information, not high tech, not 'services' like real estate sales or hawking cheeseburgers to tourists. Farming. This is no doubt a startling, radical idea, and it raises extremely difficult questions about the reallocation of land and the nature of work. (((Yeah – it's such a 'startling, radical idea' that I frankly don't buy it. There's no way that small-scale localized farming can ever support the planet's population.)))
"The relentless subdividing of land in the late twentieth century has destroyed the contiguity and integrity of the rural landscape in most places. (((Oh, and the poles are melting and Spain is on fire, but those aren't the kind of "landscape" that upsets our author's sense of proper contiguity.))) The process of readjustment is apt to be disorderly and improvisational. Food production will necessarily be much more labor-intensive than it has been for decades. We can anticipate the re-formation of a native-born American farm-laboring class. It will be composed largely of the aforementioned economic losers who had to relinquish their grip on the American dream. These masses of disentitled people may enter into quasi-feudal social relations with those who own land in exchange for food and physical security. But their sense of grievance will remain fresh, and if mistreated they may simply seize that land.
"The way that commerce is currently organized in America will not survive far into the Long Emergency. Wal-Mart's 'warehouse on wheels' won't be such a bargain in a non-cheap-oil economy. The national chain stores' 12,000-mile manufacturing supply lines could easily be interrupted by military contests over oil and by internal conflict in the nations that have been supplying us with ultra-cheap manufactured goods, because they, too, will be struggling with similar issues of energy famine and all the disorders that go with it. (((World War II was a 'military contest over oil' and the disorders led to centralized rationing, not a wild feudal famine.)))
"As these things occur, America will have to make other arrangements for the manufacture, distribution and sale of ordinary goods. They will probably be made on a 'cottage industry' basis rather than the factory system we once had, since the scale of available energy will be much lower – and we are not going to replay the twentieth century. Tens of thousands of the common products we enjoy today, from paints to pharmaceuticals, are made out of oil. They will become increasingly scarce or unavailable. The selling of things will have to be reorganized at the local scale. It will have to be based on moving merchandise shorter distances. It is almost certain to result in higher costs for the things we buy and far fewer choices. (((Where did all the global satellites and computer networks go?)))
"The automobile will be a diminished presence in our lives, to say the least. With gasoline in short supply, not to mention tax revenue, our roads will surely suffer. The interstate highway system is more delicate than the public realizes. If the 'level of service' (as traffic engineers call it) is not maintained to the highest degree, problems multiply and escalate quickly. The system does not tolerate partial failure. The interstates are either in excellent condition, or they quickly fall apart. (((Why would they fall apart when nobody's wearing them out?)))
"America today has a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. Neither of the two major presidential candidates in 2004 mentioned railroads, but if we don't refurbish our rail system, then there may be no long-range travel or transport of goods at all a few decades from now. The commercial aviation industry, already on its knees financially, is likely to vanish. The sheer cost of maintaining gigantic airports may not justify the operation of a much-reduced air-travel fleet. Railroads are far more energy efficient than cars, trucks or airplanes, and they can be run on anything from wood to electricity. The rail-bed infrastructure is also far more economical to maintain than our highway network. (((Even the rail infrastructure of the 19th century was enough to maintain flourishing, nation-wide mail-order consumer catalogs.)))
"The successful regions in the twenty-first century will be the ones surrounded by viable farming hinterlands that can reconstitute locally sustainable economies on an armature of civic cohesion. Small towns and smaller cities have better prospects than the big cities, which will probably have to contract substantially. The process will be painful and tumultuous. In many American cities, such as Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis, that process is already well advanced. Others have further to fall. New York and Chicago face extraordinary difficulties, being oversupplied with gigantic buildings out of scale with the reality of declining energy supplies. (((Chicago and New York are major rail centers. Wouldn't they bloom instantly?)))
"Their former agricultural hinterlands have long been paved over. They will be encysted in a surrounding fabric of necrotic suburbia ((( I want the T-shirt))) that will only amplify and reinforce the cities' problems. Still, our cities occupy important sites. Some kind of urban entities will exist where they are in the future, but probably not the colossi of twentieth-century industrialism. (((Most urban colossi are in pre-industrial Third World countries.)))
"Some regions of the country will do better than others in the Long Emergency. The Southwest will suffer in proportion to the degree that it prospered during the cheap-oil blowout of the late twentieth century. I predict that Sunbelt states like Arizona and Nevada will become significantly depopulated, since the region will be short of water as well as gasoline and natural gas. Imagine Phoenix without cheap air conditioning. (((It's called Baghdad.)))
"I'm not optimistic about the Southeast, either, for different reasons. I think it will be subject to substantial levels of violence as the grievances of the formerly middle class boil over and collide with the delusions of Pentecostal Christian extremism. The latent encoded behavior of Southern culture includes an outsized notion of individualism and the belief that firearms ought to be used in the defense of it. This is a poor recipe for civic cohesion. (((Smile when you say that, Yankee!)))
"The Mountain States and Great Plains will face an array of problems, from poor farming potential to water shortages to population loss. The Pacific Northwest, New England and the Upper Midwest have somewhat better prospects. I regard them as less likely to fall into lawlessness, anarchy or despotism and more likely to salvage the bits and pieces of our best social traditions and keep them in operation at some level.
"These are daunting and even dreadful prospects. (((He remarked, licking his chops.))) The Long Emergency is going to be a tremendous trauma for the human race. We will not believe that this is happening to us, that 200 years of modernity can be brought to its knees by a world-wide power shortage. (((I'm ahead of the curve, because I don't believe it already.))) The survivors will have to cultivate a religion of hope – that is, a deep and comprehensive belief that humanity is worth carrying on. (((We need a NEW RELIGION to solve all this? Gimme a break!))))
"If there is any positive side to stark changes coming our way, it may be in the benefits of close communal relations, of having to really work intimately (and physically) with our neighbors, to be part of an enterprise that really matters and to be fully engaged in meaningful social enactments instead of being merely entertained to avoid boredom. Years from now, when we hear singing at all, we will hear ourselves, and we will sing with our whole hearts. (((Why not sing now?)))
Adapted from The Long Emergency, 2005, by James Howard Kunstler, and reprinted with permission of the publisher, Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (Posted Mar 24, 2005)
(((Well, that was great stuff, eh? And now for the lighter side of civilizational collapse, American- style.)))
"I Cannot Yet Skin A Deer
"Are you prepared for the Big Collapse? Peak Oil? Rural life? Can you pickle meat and eat bark?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist Friday, July 15, 2005
"Rare is the opportunity to use authentic, down 'n' dirty rural survival skills in the city. It's true.
"You don't need to know, for example, how to skin a deer or pickle your own asparagus or nurture an understanding of which kind of deadwood is best for cookin' pig snouts over the fire pit, or how to shingle your roof with rocks and clay, or how to dig really large holes in the backyard for long-term storage of winter wheat and dead chickens and hoary annoying relatives. (((After this, it gets even better.)))
"City-bred skills and intuitions are, to be sure, unique. But there will apparently be very little call, after the Bush-branded apocalypse rains down, for knowledge of which seat in the cafe gets the best Wi-Fi signal or where to find the finest burrito after midnight in the Mission when you are post- coitally blissed and in need of refueling.
"Very little call, after the Big Ungodly Crash, for knowledge of where to get the most amazing cheap dim sum, how much the large bottle of Astroglide costs at the local Good Vibrations, or which tiny parking spaces in my girlfriend's neighborhood I can sneak into for emergency booty calls without her uptight neighbors calling Bob's Towing.
"This all comes to mind as I realize, with increasing sense of dread and alarm and a weird sense of fatalistic ennui, that if any of the dire prognostications for the world soon comes to pass, if the oil crisis strikes as violently as predicted and/or if the eviscerated U.S. economy spirals us into a new and violent Great Depression 2.0 and/or if BushCo does indeed succeed in bringing the wrath of an angry spiteful homophobic God down upon the swarming gay-lovin' tofu-sucking heathen masses, I might not be as well prepared as I'd like.
"I am not at all ready for the big return to the agrarian life, as predicted by the most dire Peak Oil prognosticators. I am not at all ready to have the devastated cities plowed under, so that we may plant crops in the ravaged landscape in a desperate attempt to survive the onslaught of a world without home pizza delivery and without drive-thru dry cleaning and without instant and immediate access to supermarkets with their 47 kinds of pasta and 138 different brands of vodka, not to mention the meaty edible flesh of nearly any animal I wish to custom order from the Williams-Sonoma catalog and have FedExed to me within 24 hours in pretty decorated tins. Mmm, prosciutto.
"I have no immediate escape route. I do not have land nearby, in the woods, protected by razor wire and laser fencing and large angry dogs. I do not have some place that has enormous underground tanks of propane and oil and grains and canned tomatoes and frozen elk meat and mountains of small-gauge ammunition and stores of camouflage underwear. (((You and me both, brother.)))
"I do not know how to dig a water well. I do not know how to install a septic pump. I know not the best month in which to plant potatoes and corn and peas and opium poppies. I cannot knit blankets or sweaters, much less some nice handmade cozies to protect my Pyrex-glass dildo collection.
"I currently own no power tools, save for a single small Black & Decker rechargeable drill which I use, of course, not for building a family shelter out of rusty car hoods and not for remodeling my nonexistent garage so it can support a family of 10 and not for cobbling together a chicken coop from scrap wood and baling wire and mesh, but rather, for hanging bitchin' shelving cubes from West Elm.
"Oh, make no mistake, the city offers its own dangers and there are plenty of urban survival skills mandatory for navigating the urban jungle, such as learning how to deftly avoid eye contact with ranting homeless people and how to appear tough and muscular when you walk by those small gangs of slouchy angry hooded dudes who look at you like you're the fish and they're the dynamite.
"I know how to calmly pray for a parking space a mile before arrival and which sushi joint has the freshest uni and which coffee shop makes the finest soy mocha. I know when Macy's designer stuff goes on double- markdown and who you have to know to get wholesale designer furniture and which yoga teacher has the best kirtan, and how to get a large leather chair up two flights of narrow Victorian stairs and the best place to have sex in Golden Gate Park.
"But alas, this is not nearly enough.
"I will, when the devolution comes and oil is $200 a barrel and we are at war with China and the dollar is worth about three cents on the euro, be relying on the talents and largesse of others. I have, for example, a wonderful brother-in-law with his own ranch-compound up near Spokane, well stocked with guns and canned goods and copious hiding spaces, and it is remote and rural and ready to be turned into a guarded inbreeding complex just after BushCo finally mistakes his electric toothbrush for the 'nukular' button and hastens the end of the world as we know it, just as the evangelicals are right now pleading.
"I have a girlfriend whose sister is a well-trained organic farmer, able to grow an entire meal for 25 in a shoebox, well versed in mulch and compost toilets and soil types and what sort of mushrooms you can and cannot eat when you're out scavenging for scraps among the torched babies and the smoking carcasses and the giant robotic cockroaches. (((The 'giant robotic cockroaches' are a fab Worldchanging touch here. Hey man, with 'giant robotic cockroaches,' another world is not just possible, it's creepin' right under the door jamb.)))
"But I am merely a hanger-on. I am not trained. This much must be admitted: When it comes to Armageddon prep, the red states have us city folk beat. Sure-sure, cities are the cultural and social and economic engines of the nation; sure we have all the Ph.D.s and all the artistic talents and all the book-learnin' and progressive ideas and cool European cars and the good wine and the better sex and the polysyllabic words.
"But when the economy collapses and the End is Nigh, well, most of us shall fall by the roadside, begging for scraps from the angry evangelical Idaho potato farmer in the beat-up pickup with the little flags stuck on the bumper, and he shall chortle and spit tobacco through his nine teeth and turn up the James Dobson Christian Family Hour on the AM and drive off toward the mushroom cloud, whistling. (((Probably not, considering that American non-farmers have farmers outnumbered about 97 to 3.)))
"The red states will finally rule the world. They will survive. They know how. They can eat squirrel brains. They can pickle things, including various animal parts. They have been known to marry each other. They can subsist on bad beer and cow pies and stuff they find growing in the rusty tailpipes of old farm equipment. They know how to perform home surgery using only a rusty butter knife and bathroom caulk. They eat mice.
"But then again, should this all come to pass and the oil crisis strikes and the economy nose-dives and the cities crumble and our iPod batteries fail and international commerce implodes and we're all rushing back to the farmland to hump hay and steal each others' wives and ogle sheep and rediscover a life that is, all over again, nasty, brutish, and short, well, maybe I will no longer care.
"Maybe then it will finally be time to throw in the karmic towel, drink the special Kool-Aid, and let the meek inherit the Earth while the rest of us go to the stars. After all, while I'd actually love to learn to work an organic farm or build a cabin from scratch or learn to distinguish species of trees by examining their leaves and then having sex under their branches, it's just not much fun anymore when we're all out of music and wine and coffee and the entire nation becomes, well, Oklahoma. I mean, what kind of joy is that? And where will I park my Audi?
"Thoughts for the author? E-mail him.
"Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the SF Chronicle. To get on the email list for this column, please click here and remove one article of clothing. Mark's column also has an RSS feed, and an archive of past columns, which includes a tiny photo of Mark probably insufficient for you to recognize him in the street and give him gifts.
"As if that weren't enough, Mark also contributes to the hot, spankin' SFGate Culture Blog."